Why sitting Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins vs. Panthers was right call

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) Kyler Murray
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) Kyler Murray /

Despite the game ending in a loss for the Arizona Cardinals, sitting Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins against the Carolina Panthers was the right call.

It was coming. The second it was reported Cam Newton may be available for a package of plays in a Carolina Panthers uniform for the first time since 2019, everyone backing the Arizona Cardinals knew it. The Week 10 matchup with Carolina may not end well.

By the end of the first half, the Cardinals were done. As hard as it was to watch what happened in the 34-10 loss to a familiar foe they just can never seem to beat, it was the right decision to sit quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Doing so shows growth in Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The NFL is an 18-week chess game, and he realized it. In both games, you need to make sacrifices to win out. In chess, you may lose a knight in order to checkmate the king. In the NFL, you may need to sit star players so they’re healthy come crunch time. Even if it means witnessing a meltdown for four quarters with backups playing at the game’s most important positions.

Having a healthy Kyler Murray at end of the 2021 season is vital for Arizona Cardinals

Last season, Murray played hurt. The decision to try and play through an injury contributed to the Cardinals’ collapse from leading the NFC West via a tiebreaker at 6-3 to limping their way to an 8-8 finish. Kingsbury learned it’s not worth playing your injured star player. Especially when that star player is a top-10 quarterback.

Arizona is 8-2 and the San Francisco 49ers got a comfortable 31-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Monday. The same 49ers the Cardinals blew out in Week 9 with Colt McCoy leading the charge and Christian Kirk acting as the top receiver. The Rams are now 7-3, still a game behind Arizona.

In hindsight, the Rams’ loss makes the Cardinals’ decision to sit Murray and Hopkins look even better. Take the loss in Week 10, get healthy, then make a run at the NFC’s top playoff seed and home-field advantage throughout. Plus, the schedule does not get any easier. Arizona still has to face Los Angeles again, plus two dates with the Seattle Seahawks, and a Week 17 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.

They need to be healthy for all of those games. Yes, even against the 3-6 Seahawks. And the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 are also no pushover, which serves as the Cardinals’ final inter-conference matchup of the year. Arizona didn’t need to be healthy against the 4-5 Panthers. It was a game, at least in this stage of the season, they could afford to lose.

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So yeah, it was brutal to see an opponent, Carolina of all teams, beat down the Cardinals for the second year in a row. But if Arizona continues their winning ways by getting healthy again in the not-so-distant future because they sat their star players, the Panthers game will be nothing more than a fading memory as the Red Sea talks playoffs.